That Smokey Haze Across the Chicago Skyline

Have you noticed that milky haze across the sky? That’s smoke in the upper atmosphere from Western wildfires. There are 80 fires burning across 13 states and the smoke from those fires reaches across the entire US. Check out this NY Times story, See How Wildfire Smoke Spread Across America. (MVCC students and staff can sign up for a free account on the NY Times through our library).

A map from the NY Times traces the route of smoke across the US.
Haze in the sky of Chicago.

Switch to Green Power

As part of our Earth Week explorations, we’ve been talking about different forms of climate action that we can take. The last piece that we’ll look at is energy.

Right now, stay at home orders and social distancing are having an effect on energy consumption. Numbers vary across regions, but electricity suppliers have seen usage rates drop between 2% and 18%. This gets even more interesting when you factor in the time of day of current electricity usage coinciding with peak times for solar activity. Read more about all of this and what camel and duck curves mean in this article from grist magazine:

How Coronavirus Is Changing Electricity Usage in 3 Charts

But, what about the rest of the time? While the amount of energy we use is important, so is the source of that energy. We’ve already looked at the harm that fossil fuel consumption does to the planet through the greenhouse effect. Use of renewable forms of energy, such as wind and solar power, can alleviate that harm. We are making progress. Ten years ago, renewable energy sources made up 10% of electricity use. This year they’ll make up 20%. How can we get that number even higher?

Adding solar panels to your house or business is one way to accomplish this. In Illinois, Com Ed’s My Green Power Connection is a place to start for information on generating your own power and connecting to the energy grid.

Another way is by switching to a green energy provider. ComEd offers you a choice in electricity supplier. They will still bring the electricity to your house, but that electricity will come from the company that you choose. Find out more here. You can compare this list of certified green energy providers to the list of companies that ComEd works with.

Read more about solar power, wind power, hydropower, and geothermal energy in the MVCC Library Catalog and Databases.

Find Your Foodprint

Yesterday as part of our Earth Week exploration, we looked at carbon footprints. Part of what goes into a carbon footprint is food that we eat—foodprint.

Foods are a large contributor to the build up of greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. Agriculture is responsible for almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, with animal agriculture making up about 80% percent of this. These emissions from animal agriculture result in an even bigger impact because a by-product of animal agriculture is methane gas, which has over 23 times the impact on the planet that carbon dioxide does. Animal agriculture also takes huge amounts of water and is a leading cause of deforestation, the problem that we looked at earlier in the week. Besides greenhouse gas emissions, consumption of natural resources, and land use, other things come into play with all types of agriculture, such as storage, and transportation.

When we look at all of these things together, we can come up a foodprint. Knowing about the different amounts of impact from various foods can be helpful when climate action is our goal. Try a foodprint calculator to learn about how the foodprint of beef compares to that of chicken, and how various types of produce compare to nuts and so on.  

Find even out more by reading through the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report Climate Change and Land. Consult the MVCC Library for even more resources on plant-based eating, and sustainable agriculture.

And here’s an interesting idea from The Atlantic.

What if Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef?

Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Today is Earth Day 2020, the 50th Earth Day! Don’t forget to head over to and EarthDayAtHome with NASA to check out all the activities.

For our Earth Week exploration today, we’re looking at one suggested climate action—reducing our carbon footprint. We hear a lot about carbon footprint, but what is it exactly and what can we do about it?

Carbon is an element that exists in all living things, with humans being 18% carbon and plants 45%. Dead plants and animals, over millions of years, have been heated and pressurized in the earth, producing coal, oil, and natural gas—fossil fuels. When fossils fuels are burned, the carbon is released and combines with oxygen in the air to form carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which traps heat close to Earth and keeps the planet warm. Without it, the Sun’s energy would leak back out to space. So, we definitely need carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases for our planet to be habitable. But, fossils fuels that were created over millions of years have been released back into the atmosphere over just a couple hundred years. This has led to too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, trapping too much heat, making the planet warmer and warmer.

We need for there to be less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, trapping less heat. We looked at one way for this to happen yesterday when we talked about needing more trees on the planet, since plants remove carbon dioxide from the air. But that’s not enough. We also need to produce fewer greenhouse gases. This brings us to a way to measure how much greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere by human activity, or carbon footprint.

Different activities, directly or indirectly, result in different amounts of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels releases the most, so travel adds quite a lot to our carbon footprint. But even things like eating do as well, since farms produce methane, another greenhouse gas. We’ll look at foods more closely tomorrow.

Knowing what the carbon footprint is for a person, household, business or even country and what goes into that carbon footprint makes us more aware of ways to possibly reduce that carbon footprint. There are carbon footprint calculators that help us figure this out. Here’s a good one to try. It looks at your travel, home, food consumption, and shopping. You may even want to try it twice—once for your regular life activities and once for right now while staying home for an extended period. Read more about how social distancing is shrinking our carbon footprint:

Coronavirus Shrinks Carbon Footprints, But Can We Keep It Up?

To find out more about human activity and its affect on the planet check out these MVCC Library resources.

Trees for Life

“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.” –Wangari Maathai

Earth Day 2016 was all about trees. With a theme of “Trees for Life: Let’s Get Planting”, the goal was to plant 7.8 billion trees, one for every person, by this year’s 50th Earth Day. People around the world have been hard at work doing just that. Ethiopia holds the record by planting over 353 million trees in just 12 hours this past July.

Trees are vital to the health of the planet. Trees clean our air and produce oxygen. Among other pollutants, they absorb carbon dioxide which is a contributor to the greenhouse effect. Deforestation across the globe has contributed to rising temperatures. Rising temperatures have contributed to increased wildfires. Wildfires increase carbon emissions by releasing the carbon stored in trees and soil. Fires are not the only thing contributing to the Earth’s diminishing tree cover to be sure, but there is a vicious cycle involved here. Fewer trees have led to higher temperatures, which have led to even fewer trees.

There are lots of actions that should be taken to combat climate change. Planting trees can part of the solution. In addition to planting a tree yourself, there are many ways to be a part the tree planting effort. At the Arbor Day Foundation, you can take a quiz to see how many trees to plant to offset your carbon footprint. (We’ll talk more about carbon footprints tomorrow.) Some other tree planting organizations are: 8 Billion Trees, One Tree Planted, The National Forest Foundation, Trees for the Future, and the Green Belt Movement, just to name a few. The Green Belt Movement is an interesting one. The indigenous, grassroots organization was founded in Nairobi in 1977 by Wangari Maathai. She was the first women to earn a PhD in Eastern Africa and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work with the Green Belt Movement.

Learn more about trees, forest fires, and rain forests using the Library Catalog or the Library Databases.

Earth Day @ 50

Earth Day is April 22nd and this year marks the 50th Earth Day celebration. The first Earth Day was the brainchild of Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson who became inspired to create a grassroots movement after a 1969 oil spill. On that first Earth Day in 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets to protest pollution. This led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency that same year. Later, Earth Day support led to amending the Clean Air Act and to passage of the Clean Water Act (1972) and the Endangered Species Act (1973). In 1990, Earth Day became a global effort with 200 million people celebrating in 114 countries. Earth Day 2010 saw the launching of a campaign to plant a billion trees. In 2016, it was on Earth Day that the Paris Climate Agreement opened for signature. It has now been ratified by 189 parties.

This year, due COVID-19, Earth Day is going digital. The theme this year is climate action. There are lots of ways to get involved. Visit the official website to find out about Earth Challenge 2020, a global citizen science effort, and Earthrise, three days of planet activism. Also at the site, you can find pandemic specific information and much more:

11 Actions for the Planet During a Pandemic

Feeling Powerless? Switch to Green Power

Plant-Based Recipes to Try During the Coronavirus Pandemic

5 Ways to Compost During the Coronavirus Pandemic

9 Books That Bring the Outdoors In During a Stay-at-Home Order

Women’s Empowerment is Key To Reducing Climate Change

12 Songs for Your Climate Strike Playlist

Another site you may want to checkout is NASA. They have lots Earth Day activities planned for NASA TV and social media including videos and interactions with astronauts on the International Space Station. They’ll be showing how the science they are carrying out there relates back to Earth.

Of course, you can find all sorts of Earth and climate information at the MVCC library. Use the library catalog to look for books, ebooks, and videos on everything from climate change, and plant-based eating, to pollution and green energy and much more. You might also want to look for articles in our specialized database Greenfile. It focuses on the relationship between human beings and the environment.

And stay tuned. This whole week is Earth Week. So with the theme of climate action in mind, each day this week I’ll focus on a different topic and activity related to climate change.

24 Hours of Reality: A Climate Conversation

As part of a global event, “24 Hours of Reality” Moraine Valley Community College is presenting a panel discussion on the global climate challenges we face, and how we can begin to solve them. Listen and learn about the science and the psychology behind this current climate reality.

What’s New Wednesdays: Environmental Theme

This week’s new book recommendations have an environmental theme; the photos alone in “Plastic Soup” will tug at the heartstrings.

  • Plastic Soup : an Atlas of Ocean Pollution / by Michiel Roscam Abbing. “A beautifully-illustrated survey of the plastics clogging our seas, their impacts on wildlife and people around the world, and inspirational initiatives designed to tackle the problem.”–Publisher description.
  • How to Give Up Plastic : a Guide to Changing the World, One Plastic Bottle at a Time / by Will McCallum. “An accessible guide to the changes we can all make–small and large–to rid our lives of disposable plastic and clean up the world’s oceans. It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to fully biodegrade, and there are around 12.7 million tons of plastic entering the ocean each year. At our current pace, in the year 2050 there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish, by weight.”–Publisher description.
  • The Conscious Closet : the Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good / by Elizabeth L. Cline. “‘The Conscious Closet’ is not just a style guide. It is a call to action to transform one of the most polluting industries on earth–fashion–into a force for good. Readers will learn where and how their clothes are made, before connecting to a passionate global community of stylish fashion revolutionaries.”–Publisher description.

All of these books are currently available on our New Arrivals shelves in the Library Lounge. Enjoy!

If you have trouble finding any of these books, don’t hesitate to “Ask a Librarian” for help. They can also place any of these books on hold if interested.

Climate Change and the Mechanics of Skepticism: How Can we KNOW Better? (video)

To some, climate change is a simple scientific question to be answered with data while to others climate change is a misguided hoax that could cost our country jobs and hurt out economy. The question is why do some people end up on one side of this debate and others end up on the other? This talk by Librarian Troy Swanson will focus on climate change but also ask participants to think about how they make decisions about other charged topics. What processes are at work and how can we step in and make better decisions? This event is part of MVCC’s Earth Month Celebration. ?

Climate Change and the Mechanics of Skepticism: How Can we KNOW Better?

The audio of this discussion is available below:

The Impacts of Factory Farming (video)

Special guest Stephanie Domingo, Chicago Director of the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition discusses the ecological and public health impacts of industrial agriculture, and the power of our food choices. This event is part of MVCC’s Earth Month Celebration and is organized by the MVCC Center for Sustainability and the Earth Science Department.

The Impacts of Factory Farming

The audio of this discussion is available below:

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